Posts Tagged ‘The Observer’

Clive James on Nixon’s Interview with Henry Kissinger

July 7, 2018

One of the books I was reading in hospital was Clive James’ The Crystal Bucket (London: Picador 1981). As I said in a previous blog post, James was the TV critic for the Observer. He started out on the radical left, and ended up a Conservative, writing for the Torygraph. During the 1980s and 1990s, he had his own show, first on Channel 4 with Sunday Night Clive, and then on the Beeb with Monday night. In these, he zoomed up and down the information superhighway to bring you satirical comment on the news and interview stars like Peter Cook, William Shatner, and Sylvester Stallone’s weird and highly embarrassing, at least for him, mother.

James could be witty and intelligent, and in The Crystal Bucket he reviewed some of the programmes then being shown on the serious issue of the time. Like old Nazis and Fascists like Albert Speer and Oswald Mosley talking about Nazi Germany or their career as Fascists, without once admitting that they were genuinely persecutory anti-Semites, responsible or in Mosley’s case, criminally supporting a regime that murdered people in their millions for no other crime than their ethnicity or political orientation.

James also reviewed David Frost’s interview with Richard Nixon, in which America’s most notorious president until Trump tried to sound repentant for the horrors of his foreign policy, while actually not denying or repudiating them at all. This was the interview that was recently filmed as Frost/Nixon.

Frost also interviewed the man responsible for Nixon’s genocidal foreign policy, Henry Kissinger. Kissinger brought chaos, torture and death across the globe from the overthrow of Allende in Chile to the support of another Fascist thug in Pakistan. Of whom Nixon himself said that this thug was ‘a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch’. Kissinger’s massive bombing campaign was responsible for the rise in power of the Khmer Rouge, who became the leading opposition group against the Americans. And after they seized power came the genocides and massacres of Pol Pot’s Year Zero, in which 1-2 millions died.

The review’s particularly interesting for this passage. James was not a total opponent of the Vietnam War, and seems to have believe that the Americans were right to fight against the Viet Cong because of the horrors they would inflict on the rest of the country when they gained power. He criticised Frost, because he thought Frost had bought the whole anti-Vietnam War argument, and states that the Americans were justified in bombing North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. They were just too brutal, as was Kissinger’s foreign policy generally, and his overthrow of the democratically elected president of Chile, Salvador Allende, was criminal.

James wrote

Indeed Frost’s questioning, though admirably implacable, was often wide of the mark. Frost had obviously bought the entire ant-war package on Cambodia, up to and including the idea that the North Vietnamese had scarcely even been present within its borders. They were there all right. There was considerable military justification for US intervention in Cambodia, as even some of the most severe critics of Nixon and Kissinger are prepared to admit. ‘Now jusd a minude,’ fumed Kissinger, ‘with all due respecd, I think your whole line of quesdioning is maging a moggery of whad wend on in Indo-China. ‘

Well, not quite. Nixon and Kissinger might have had short-term military reasons for their policy in Cambodia, but the ruinous long-term consequences were easily predictable. Nor, despite Kissinger’s plausible appeal to international law, was there anything legal about the way he and his President tried to keep the bombing secret. In fact, they conspired to undermine the United States Constitution. Kissinger’s personal tragedy is that his undoubted hatred of totalitarianism leads him to behave as if democracy is not strong enough to oppose it.

Unfortunately his personal tragedy, when he was in power, transformed itself into the tragedy of whole countries. The most revealing part of the interview was not about South East Asia, but about Chile. It transpires that a 36 per cent share of the popular vote was not enough to satisfy Kissinger that Allende had been democratically elected. Doubtless remembering Hitler, who had got in on a comparable share of the total vote, Kissinger blandly ascribed Allende’s electoral victory to a ‘peculiaridy of the consdidution’. But Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister of Great Britain by the same kind of peculiarity, and presumably Kissinger, if he were still ruling the roost, would have no plans to topple her. By what right did he topple Allende?

Kissinger couldn’t even conceive of this as a question, ‘Manipulading the domesdig affairs of another goundry’, he explained, ‘is always gombligaded.’It is not just complicated, it is often criminal. The Nixon-Kissinger policy in Chile was an unalloyed disaster, which delivered the population of that country into the hands of torturers and gave Kissingers’ totalitarian enemy their biggest propaganda boost of recent times. You didn’t have to be Jane Fonda to hate the foreign policy of Nixon and Kissinger. all you had to be was afraid of Communism.
(‘Maging a Moggery’, pp.226-228, 4th November 1979).

This shows up two things. Firstly, the sheer murderousness behind Hillary Clinton. Posing as the ‘woman’s candidate’ in the Democratic presidential election contest, and then again in the elections proper against Trump, she showed none of the deep feminine, and feminist concerns for peace and humanity, which have seen women across the world lead marches and protests groups against war and Fascism. Like the women in Chile who formed a group campaigning for the release of information on the victims of Pinochet’s coup who ‘disappeared’. I remember Sinead O’Connor singing ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’ back in the 1990s as part of a programme celebrating them and protesters like them. Hillary, instead, has shown herself every bit as much a military hawk and anti-democrat as the generals she surrounded herself with. I’ve no doubt that if she had won the election, we would now be at war with China and Russia. She’s also the woman, who glowingly boasted how she went on holiday with Kissinger, something that did not impress Bernie Sanders in the presidential debates.

It also shows up the Times. A few weeks ago, I posted up a bit I found in a book on the right-wing bias of the British media. This was an extract from the Times, in which one of their lead writers declared that Pinochet’s coup was entirely justified, because Allende only had 36 per cent of the vote and he couldn’t control the country.

Well, Thatcher had the same proportion of the vote, and there was widespread, determined opposition to her in the form of strikes and riots. But instead, rather than calling for her overthrow, the Times celebrated her election victory as a return to proper order, economic orthodoxy and the rest of the right-wing claptrap.

It shows just how thuggish and hypocritical Murdoch’s Times is, and just how much Hillary certainly didn’t deserve the support of America and its women. She’s been whining about how she’s been the victim of left-wing ‘misogyny’ ever since. But if you want to see what she really represents, think of Nixon, Chile’s disappeared, it’s campaigning women and Sinead O’Connor’s performance. O’Connor herself, in my opinion, is no saint. But she’s the better women than Hillary.

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Evening Standard Set to Sell Editorial Independence to Big Business

June 4, 2018

This is a very sobering video from Novara Media, which shows precisely how degraded the mainstream media is becoming, and implicitly, why independent news outlets like Novara and the other news sites and shows I repost here are so necessary.

Aaron Bastani reports and comments on an article put up by Open Democracy last Wednesday that the Evening Standard is due to sell its editorial independence to big business tomorrow, 5th July 2018. This move, led by editor George Osborne, who not at all coincidentally used to be Dave Cameron’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, will see the paper sell positive coverage to firms like Google and Uber for £3 million. Bastani states that this is important, as it breaks down the divide between journalism and paid-for advertising content. But, he continues, it’s nothing new.

He then talks about how the Evening Standard is owned by a collection of shady Russian oligarchs, and reflects their business interests. He goes on to describe how the media is increasingly dominated by Tory politicians. The first person to interview Donald Trump when he became president was Michael Gove in the Times. Danny Finkelstein is a Tory lord, and the Standard’s Associate Editor. Robbie Gibb, who is the brother of a Tory MP, and was Theresa May’s head of communications, edited the Beeb’s Daily and Sunday Politics. Boris Johnson has a column at the Torygraph, even though he’s Foreign Secretary.

Bastani concludes that the revolving door between politics, industry and the media has vanished, and those hitherto separate areas have become fused. He makes the point that while quality journalism is a public good, if it’s left to Osborne, Johnson, Gove and Lebedev we will have ‘a profoundly broken society’.

Bastani’s right, but this is just the latest development in a process that has been going on for a very long time. Editorial independence in many papers declined in the 1980s, when newspapers like the Observer were bought up by magnates with interests in multiple industries. Tiny Rowland, who owned the Observer, owned mining concerns in Zimbabwe, and so spiked stories that paper wanted to run exposing human rights abuses there. I also remember how, in the 1990s, Private Eye also ran articles every so often revealing how the Observer had published yet another glowing article about a country or corporation, without revealing that it was a puff piece paid for by the nation or company featured.

It’s also been the case that politicians very often have had their own columns in the papers, or written the odd article about a particular issue. Sometimes this happened after they left office. For example, David Blunkett was given a column in the Sun by Rupert Murdoch. As for Robbie Gibb at the Beeb, Mike’s put up a number of articles about the way the news department at the Beeb is dominated by members of the Tory party, including Nick Robinson and Laura Kuenssberg. And it seems every couple of months someone else leaves the Beeb to work for the Tories. But the Corporation still keeps on pompously denying that it’s biased, despite its vicious attacks on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party.

But Bastani’s piece does show how far this process has gone, and is set to go, with the Evening Standard providing puff pieces for global corporations as news, while being packed, like the rest of the right-wing media, with Tory MPs. It’s almost a case of life imitating art. Or rather satire. Remember a few years ago, when people started satirising the corporate media with comments like ‘And now for our corporate approved content’, and slogans like ‘Remember: Corporate loves you.’ It now looks almost like Osborne saw the satire, but thought it was a good idea.

Until the mainstream media reforms itself, it has shown that it absolutely cannot be trusted. And people are far better off taking their news from the alternative media instead.

Observer Unveils Launch of New ‘Centrist’, Corporatist Party

April 10, 2018

On Sunday, the Absurder covered the launch of a new ‘centrist’ party, which it was claimed would break the mould of British politics. And talking about it with Mike, I certainly got the impression that the party sounded very mouldy indeed. It has been launched with £50 million worth of funding, backed by businessmen and donors.

Yes, businessmen and donors. This looks to me like more continuity Blairism: claiming to represent the centre, while instead promoting the policies and business interests of the corporate elite. Just like Blair did in New Labour, when he gave government posts to a whole slew of businessmen in return for their cash and support. The party’s launch was also covered by the Mirror, which quoted two of the leading officials in the Labour party about it. One described it as ‘a party for the rich, by the rich, and with the rich’, which sounds very true, although it also describes the Tories, Lib Dems and the Blairites in Labour. Another leading member mocked the new party for having no members, no rule book and no ideology.

Well of course it doesn’t. It looks very much like Tony Blair trying to claw his way back into British politics. I don’t know if he’s behind this, but he certainly made murmurings about starting a new party. This party has been set up a party to appeal to the ‘centre ground’ he thinks are being alienated from Labour by the ‘far’ left Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, Corbyn is centre left, and is actually becoming increasingly popular as the corporatist, Thatcherite policies pursued by Blair and the Tories before and after him are increasingly shown to be failing.

He also doesn’t seem to have learned that far from being attracted by corporatism, voters are actually repelled by it. Blair’s time in office was marked by numerous exposes of his rewarding greedy donors, as well as George Monbiot’s book, Captive State, which described how, under Blair and his predecessors, the British state had been made into the vehicle for the interests of big business. Like the supermarkets, led by New Labour donor David Sainsbury, amongst others. Far from this attracting voters, the Labour party actually lost them as Blair continued to ignore the party’s traditional base in the working and lower middle classes in order to appeal to ‘aspirational’ middle class voters.

And its lack of ideology is part of its Blairite nature. Blair too described New Labour as having left ideology behind, by which he meant socialism, and would use instead what worked. By which he meant private industry, which spectacularly hasn’t. It also appears that Blair believes that this new party will also borrow, or work with members of other parties where necessary or appropriate. Which is back to Blair’s ‘Government Of All the Talents’, which included leading Tories like Chris Patten.

So far from breaking the mould, this new party is simply more of the same from Blairism. It’s also highly debatable how different it is from the other, existing parties. The Tories are dominated by corporate interests, which they have been representing since the 19th century. So too are the Lib Dems under Vince Cable. Statistics gathered way back in 2012 or so showed that 77 per cent of MPs had one or more directorships. This is a major problem for those trying to get our elected representatives to work for ordinary people, rather than the corporate elite. The same problem is particularly acute in America, which is why Harvard University issued a report stating that America was no longer a functioning democracy, but an oligarchy. Once elected to office, American politicos follow the wishes of their corporate donors, not their constituents.

This new party isn’t going to reinvigorate democracy. It’s unnecessary, unwanted, and if anything a real danger to it by standing to give even more political power to business people as its members and donors. It looks less like a serious contender, and more like a vanity project by Blair, trying to show that the public still want him and his increasingly worn out policies.

‘Florence’ Suggests I should Compile a Book about British & American Support for Fascist Dictators

November 12, 2017

Yesterday I put up a piece commenting on a video from the Aussie left-wing blogger, Democratic Socialist. This showed the Tory media’s double standard in reviling Jeremy Corbyn as a supporter of terrorism, Iran, and an anti-Semite, when he is none of those things. But the hacks of the Telegraph definitely did not make those accusations against their Tory molten idol, Maggie Thatcher, when she by association supported all of the above through her friendship with General Pinochet.

Corbyn’s support for Iran was based on an interview he made to an Iranian group, the Mossadeq Project. Mohammed Mossadeq was the last, democratically elected prime minister of that ancient and extremely cultured nation. He was no theocrat, but a secular liberal. He was also a Baha’i, a post-Islamic, syncretistic faith which embraces human equality, including that of men and women. The Shi’a Muslim establishment have hated them since the faith first emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and there have been terrible pogroms against them. This hatred is not shared by all Iranian Muslims, and I have personally known Iranian Muslims, who are heartily sick of the way their Baha’i friends are treated.

Mossadeq’s crime was that he dared nationalise the Iranian oil industry, then dominated by the British-owned Anglo-Persian Oil, which became BP. This resulted in us and the Americans organising a coup, which toppled Mossadeq, and began the long process by which the Shah gradually assumed absolute power, ruling through terror and a secret police force, SAVAK.

‘Florence’, one of the many great commenters on this blog, commented

In the early 70s I volunteered to help type up translation transcriptions of reports from torture victims of the “Shit” of Iran, as Private eye called him. (It was as evidence for Amnesty.) Its not something you can ever forget. When the revolution happened, it was simply new bosses at the same slaughter houses. This is another lesson learned; the violence required by a state to terrorise its own people seeps into the culture, and remains for generations (maybe longer, its too early to tell in most of the cases you cover in this interesting and evocative piece). The violence of the state becomes symmetrical in the revolution in many countries, Iran, Iraq, etc. that follows such repression.

(For this reason I also worry that, for example, the almost visceral hatred of the disabled (and other poor) in the UK bred by the eugenics of neoliberalism for decades will not be so easily dislodged with a change in government. )

I see that the experience of having lived through those times is no longer part of the wider political education of the younger members of the left. In Labour the excesses of the neoliberals all but wiped out that generation and the links. I talk sometimes to our younger members in the Labour party and they are fascinated – but totally clueless. I do try to point them at this blog for this very reason. They are oblivious to who Pinochet was, why it mattered to us then and now, the refuge given to that butcher by Thatcher, the entire history of the Chicago school etc. The traditional passing in of this history, personal history too, through social groups in the Labour party has all but broken down.

As a suggestion, perhaps you could edit your blogs into a book we could use in discussion groups? You would help us be that collective memory board for the newer (not just younger) activists. It would help tease out the older members stories of their personal part in the struggles at home and abroad, but more than that your pieces on the collision of religious and political also show the rich complexities of life.

I am really honoured that my blog is so highly regarded and useful. While talking to Mike earlier today, I mentioned the idea to him. He was enthusiastic and supportive, making a few suggestions on how I should go about it. I told him I have had problems finding a mainstream publisher for some of my other books I have written. He suggested I should try Lulu again, and have the cover done by a professional artist. This would be a great help to actually selling the book, and he could put me in touch with some of the great comics artists he’s worked with.

I am therefore definitely going to look into this.

Now for the other points ‘Florence’ has raised in her comment.

As for the point about how a whole generation in the Left and the Labour party having an awareness and opposition to the various Fascist leaders run riot around the world thanks to British and American support as part of their political education, I think that’s how very many people got involved in politics. Private Eye covered these issues, as it still does, and there was the series of comedy reviews put on in support of Amnesty in the 1980s called The Secret Policeman’s Ball. These featured some of the greatest comedy talents of the day, such as the Pythons and the languid, caustic wit of Peter Cook. I don’t think you had to be particularly left-wing to be a fan, only a supporter of democracy and civil liberties. Very many of the other kids in my Sixth Form were into it, including those, who could be described as working-class Tories.

But come to think about it, we haven’t seen anything like that on our screens for many, many years. The series was becoming long and drawn out towards the end, but nevertheless there’s no reason something else like it, which could be launched. And I don’t doubt that there are young, angry, talented comedians out there, who are perfectly capable of stepping up to the mike and doing it.

And some of the absence of comment and criticism of the monsters, who ran amok across the globe thanks to British and American support does come from the victory of neoliberalism. Including its adoption by New Labour. Blair was an Atlanticist, and an alumni of the Reagan-founded British-American Project for the Successor Generation, or BAP for short. This was a group that trained up future British political leaders, sending them on free jaunts to the US, so that on return to Britain they would be enthusiastic supporters of the ‘Special Relationship’. And they did a superb job on Blair. Before he went on one jaunt, he was a supporter of unilateral disarmament. When he returned, after meeting the American nuclear lobby, he was fully on board with us supporting America’s siting of nukes in Britain, as well as our own, independent nuclear deterrent.

Much of the activism against these thugs came out, it seems to me, of the campaigns against the Vietnam War. This inspired the radical young people of the time to look more closely at what America and the West were doing in the Cold War, and the people we supported as the bulwark of ‘freedom’ – which really meant ‘capitalism’ and western big business – against the Soviets. And the brutal realities of Pinochet’s regime, and that of the Shah of Iran, and very many others, were extensively reported. Clive James in one of his TV reviews written for the Observer, acidly commented on an interview on British TV with some high level thug from the Shah’s Iran. This torturer was asked about the brutal methods of interrogation employed by SAVAK, the Shah’s secret police. There was no problem, said the thug. They were improving all the time. Oh yes, commented James, or something similar.

Incidentally, an Iranian friend of mine told me had some experience of the activities of the Shah’s secret police himself. Back in Iran, he’d been a footie fan. But he noticed that several of his mates kept disappearing. He then found out that one of his friends was a snitch for the secret police, and had been informing on them. It’s when you hear these experiences from the people, who observed what was happening, that really begin to understand why so much of the world is less than enthusiastic about western imperialism. And why so many Iranians were taken in by that other thug, Khomeini. When he returned to Iran, he promised freedom to all Iranians. That didn’t last long, as it was back to normal with the rapists and torturers in Evin prison under his regime.

I was also part of a British medieval re-enactment group. One of the great peeps I met in that was an American chap, whose ancestry was South American. He was proud of his Incan heritage, and in America he’d been part of a similar group, that recreated the warrior traditions of this Andean people. He’d also been a translator for one of the human rights organisations, translating documents on abuses from Spanish.

There is indeed a whole generation out there, with personal experience of the dictatorship supported by the West, people whose wealth of knowledge and experience should be passed on.

But part of the problem is the supposed break with dictatorship and the entry of neoliberalism into the Labour party. The Fall of Communism was meant to be the End of History, as heralded by Francis Fukuyama. From now on, Western liberal democracy and capitalism would reign unchallenged. And with the threat of Communism gone, the Americans decided to cut their losses and move against the Fascist dictators they’d been propping up. Hence their ouster of General Noriega.

This gave the impression that the world was going to be nicely democratic, with the unspoken assumption that western, Euro-American culture would remain dominant and unchallenged.

But the old culture of lies, coups and regime change when the dominated countries in the developing world get too uppity is still there. As are the Cold Warriors. We didn’t invade Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to free its peoples. We invaded because the Neocons wanted their state industries for American multinationals, and the Saudi-American oil industry wanted their oil fields. And Israel wanted to stop Hussein from aiding the Palestinians. Human rights was just a convenient pretext. And it’s been like this for the last 14 years.

Just like we’re also being told lies about the situation in Ukraine. The Maidan Revolution was not spontaneous. It was staged by the CIA, National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and Victoria Nuland in Obama’s state department. It was to stop Ukraine becoming too close to Putin’s Russia. Ukraine has always had strong links to its eastern neighbour. Indeed, Kiev was one of the earliest and most powerful of the Russian states to emerge in the Middle Ages. Trying to sever the links between the two is similar, as someone put it, to Canada moving away from America to side with the Communist bloc.

But we aren’t being told any of that. Nor are we told that real, unreconstructed Nazis from the Pravy Sektor are in the ruling coalition, and that there is credible evidence that human rights abuses have been visited on the Russian minority and Russian speaking Ukrainians.

We are just being told that Putin is a thug – which is true – and that he’s ready to invade the former Soviet satellites. Which probably isn’t.

There is also a further problem, in that some of the countries, whose Fascist leaders Britain and America supported, are very remote. I’d guess that many people really wouldn’t be able to find them on a map, let alone know much about their history. And so we face the same problem the Czechs faced, when Chamberlain sacrificed their country to Hitler at Munich. They are faraway countries, of which we know nothing.

And this is a problem with British imperial history generally. Salman Rushdie once said that the British don’t know their own history, because so much of it happened abroad. This is true. British capitalism was stimulated through the colonisation of the West Indies, the slave trade and the sugar industry. How much is a matter of debate. Black and West Indian scholars have suggested that it was the prime stimulus behind the emergence of capitalism and the industrial revolution in Britain. Others have argued instead that it added only 5 per cent to the economy. But that it did have an effect is undeniable, especially on its colonised peoples. In the West Indies, this meant the virtual extermination of the indigenous Amerindian peoples and their replacement with enslaved Africans.

Well, the Empire has gone, and been replaced by the Commonwealth. But western domination of these countries’ economies still remains through the various tariff barriers that the Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal called Neocolonialism. As well as the domination of their industries by western multinationals.

There are book available on the British Empire, some of them critical. Like John Newsinger’s The Blood Never Dried, and a recent book about the internment, torture and mutilation of the indigenous Kenyans during the Mao Mao crisis, Africa’s Secret Gulags. But the people, who appear on TV to talk about imperialism tend to be those on the right, like Niall Ferguson, who will admit that the British Empire was seriously flawed, but on balance did more good. Which might be true, but still glosses over some of the horrors we perpetrated.

And many of these are still kept from us. The public documents supporting the allegations of the victims of British torture in Kenya only came to light because they fought a long and hard battle in the British courts to get them released. I honestly don’t know what other nasty little secrets are being kept from us, in case it embarrasses senior ministers or industrialists.

So if you want to see the brutal reality behinds the West’s foreign policy, you have to read specialist magazines, many of them small press. Like Robin Ramsay’s Lobster, which has been going since the 1980s, and which is now online, and Counterpunch, an American radical magazine and website, which has been digging the sordid truth up about the American Empire and the rapacity of capitalism and the global elite. I also recommend William Blum’s The Anti-Empire Report, and his books, as well as Greg Palast’s dissection of the real reasons we invaded Iraq, Armed Madhouse.

More material on the rapacity of western imperialism is coming to light through the internet, and especially the emergence of alternative news sites. And there is a growing audience for it, as young and older people from across the world are brought together through international links. This isn’t just business, but also through the foreign students coming to Britain, as well as Brits living, working and studying elsewhere in the world.

The problem is getting it out there, and moving it from the sidelines so that it becomes a major topic that can be used to challenge our leaders and hold them to account, without being written off as ‘loony radical lefties’ spouting about things no-one else wants to know about or even hear. About other ‘faraway places, of which we know nothing’.

Did the Tories Start an Advertising Campaign to Discredit Sociology in the 1970s-80s?

October 9, 2017

I heard this from a friend of mine, who has an MA in Cultural Studies. He told me that in the 1970s, the Tories paid Maggie’s favourite advertisers, Saatchi & Saatchi, to start an advertising campaign designed to discredit sociology. The Tories wanted to turn the British public against the subject by presenting it as an intellectually fraudulent pseudo-subject, dominated by Marxists. To do this, Saatchi & Saatchi placed comments sneering at, or otherwise disparaging the subject in other adverts. One of these, my friend claimed, was the advert for BT with Maureen Lipman, in which the actress is delighted that her son has got an ‘ology’, in this case a qualification in sociology.

Cultural Studies arose as a reaction to it, combining some social history with feminist and left-wing cultural criticism, including the French postmodern philosophers Julia Kristeva, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan. While there was a reaction against postmodernism in the 1990s, such as in Michael Sokal’s and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Impostures, Cultural Studies was left largely alone. This was because it’s research and conclusions were qualitative, rather than quantitative. It presented a series opinions on the nature of society, but, unlike sociology, it was not dominated by statistics, which had the potential to show unpalatable truths that the Tories would like to hide.

I’d be interested in finding out more about this. For as long as I can remember, sociology has had that image of a non-subject, taught in modish redbrick universities by Communists. And it’s true that Marx has been called the founder of sociology because of his research trying to show how the economic structure of society determined its overall form. However, others have suggested that the origins of sociology go further back to Auguste Comte, an atheist, who wished to establish a ‘religious of humanity’ with its own rituals and priesthood, and who also advocated the use of statistics for investigating social conditions.

One of the other major influences on sociology was Emile Durckheim, the founder of fuctionalism. This is the view that society functions somewhat like a machine or organism, with different parts of it performing different functions according to the needs of society as a whole. From what I understand, Durckheim was a socialist, but not a Marxist.

There’s also a very strong relationship with anthropology, which began long before Marx, and whose major 20th century influence was Boleslaw Malinowski. Malinowski was the creator of ‘participant observation’, the view that anthropologists should ‘get off the missionaries’ veranda’ and live amongst the people they are researching, in order to experience their way of life and see the world and their culture from their point of view. Or as close to it as possible. Ethnographers don’t just research the lives and customs of primal societies in the Developing World. They are also active researching different social groups and subcultures in developed countries like Britain, America and Europe. One aspect of this project was the establishment of Mass Observation in the ’30s. This was founded by a group of anthropologists, who complained that less was known about the lives of ordinary people in this country, than about tribes in remote Africa or Asia, for example. They therefore set about trying to correct this by carrying out research into what ordinary working class Brits were doing.

Some of this research was very bizarre. A book came out on Mass Observation in 1985, and I can remember reading a review of it in the Observer. One bit of research consisted of one of the anthropologists going into the toilets in a pub and timing how long it took the men there to use the urinal. I wonder how the man avoided being beaten up, or arrested. Nevertheless, they did much valuable research, some of which formed the basis for the first television documentaries on the British working class made in the 1950s.

And even in the 1980s, not every Tory stalwart was convinced that sociology was dominated by Commies. I can remember reading a piece in the Torygraph in 1986/7, in which one female Tory stated that while sociology had a reputation for left-wing jargon and viewpoints, ‘there was nothing more Conservative’.

The story that the Tories made a deliberate effort to discredit sociology isn’t one that I’ve heard before, but it does ring true. As does my friend’s opinion that they left Cultural Studies alone because it didn’t back up its critique with statistical facts, or at least, not to the same extent as sociology. Robin Ramsay, the editor of Lobster, has said there that it seemed to him that postmodernism was a retreat from actively critiquing and combating modern capitalism and Conservatism. Instead of presenting a clear expose of the way elite groups and corporations ran governments in order to reinforce the class structure and keep the working class, the poor and other marginalized groups in their place, exploited at the bottom of the social hierarchy, postmodernism instead produced mountains of largely unreadable and intellectually pretentious text, much of which was deliberately obscure. The leading postmodernists were left-wing, but the obscurity of their prose meant that to some they had little to say of any real political value. That was the attitude of Michael Sokal, a scientist of very left-wing opinions, who had resigned from his career in American academia to teach mathematics in Nicaragua under the Sandinistas.

In recent years Cultural Studies has been attacked by the right in its turn. Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic have declared that it, and related subjects, are full of Gramscian Marxists attacking traditional western society in order to introduce Communism. This has in turn resulted in anyone, who offers any kind of left-wing critique of Conservativism or traditional western society being denounced as a ‘cultural Marxist’.

My friend was convinced that the Saatchi campaign against sociology was part of a wider Thatcherite assault on intellectual freedom in the universities. Thatcher was rabidly anti-Communist, and passed legislation that tried to make it illegal for Marxists, or members of Marxist organisations, to hold tenure at universities. Hence the rise of people calling themselves ‘Marxian’. It was a legalistic device by which academics, who held Marxist views, described themselves as ‘cultural Marxists’, that is, people who had a Marxist culture, which allowed them to hold on to their jobs.

If it is true that Maggie and the Saatchis tried to discredit sociology, then it shows just how afraid the Tories were of their favourite economic theories being discredited by inconvenient fact. As indeed they have been for a very long time. I can remember how they began redefining unemployment to create the false impression that it had decreased when I was at school back in the 1980s. It also shows how deeply, profoundly anti-intellectual Conservatism is. There’s no particularly surprise there. The philosopher Roger Scruton in his book on the new Conservatism in the 1980s stated quite clearly that it wasn’t intellectual, but based on respect for tradition. And more recently we’ve seen a succession of Republican administrations in America attacking the teaching of evolution in schools and trying to suppress the evidence for climate change.

The Tories don’t just rely on propaganda and distorted news to support their rule. They have also been actively engaged in censoring and using propaganda in order to spread ignorance and misinformation against established academic disciplines. Their goal is to keep ordinary working people poor and uninformed. They are a party of anti-intellectuals, who aim to rule partly by spreading stupidity and ignorance.

Democrat Lawmakers Wish to Strip Trump of His Power to Launch Nuclear Missiles

August 13, 2017

At last, after the mindless, terrifying posturing of Trump and Kim Jong In, there’s a bit of common sense in this latest nuclear crisis. A group of Democrat politicos, including Mark Lew, are demanding a change in legislation that would strip the American president of his current power to launch a nuclear attack without Congress’ authorization. This piece of legislation is currently backed by 50,000 signatures from the American public. A previous version of the law was signed by 500,000 people.

In this clip from The Ring of the Fire, the front man not only welcomes this piece of legislation, which would restrain Trump as someone too dangerously unstable to have this power, but asks why it was never passed before. All the past presidents, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and George Dubya, had the power to launch a nuclear missile somewhere without having to seek Congress’ approval. This means that they could destroy a region anywhere, and leave it uninhabitable for 30 years. The presenter makes the point that no-one should power.

He’s absolutely right. The British comics writer and creator, Pat Mills, made a similar point back in an edition of Diceman, a comic whose strips were all Role-Playing Games. In one of these, the reader played Ronald Reagan, who had to go back in time to undo the series of events which were about to start a nuclear war with the former Soviet Union. Mills wrote in the notes to the game a piece detailing how little operational machinery there was in place to check a president’s decision to launch a nuclear attack, or halt hostilities once they had began. These procedures were so few that, if America had been on the brink of a nuclear to the point where the president had gone aboard Airforce 1 to escape an attack on the White House, his chance of contacting the Russian premier to negotiate a peace and pull back from Armageddon would depend literally on a three mile length of wire dangling from the aircraft as an emergency aerial.

And this was under Reagan, whose rhetoric and conduct towards the USSR and Communism was especially belligerent. He nearly started a nuclear holocaust himself with that stupid joke he made at a Republican rally. He stood in front of the cheering crowd, and declared that ‘Congressed has passed legislation outlawing the Soviet Union. Bombing begins in five minutes’. A little while later, the Observer reported under the headline, ‘Nearly the Last Laugh of All’, that after Reagan made that stupid joke, one of the Soviet nuclear bases in Siberia went on red alert for half an hour before standing down.

We can’t have the power to start a nuclear war, and turn this planet into a lifeless cinder, unilaterally held by the President, without a comprehensive system of check. It shouldn’t be held by Reagan, Barack Obama or Clinton, let alone a pratt like Trump.

I have a feeling that the system may have been set up the way it has been for swiftness of response. If Russia had fired nuclear missiles at America, the president could have launched a rapid counterattack in the precious last few minutes the country still existed, instead of seeking Congressional approval.
But the Americans discussing abandoning their ‘no strike first’ policy, removing this power from the presidency is a small price to pay for increased global security.

It’s also similar to a proposal in Britain to strip the Prime Minister of the right to start a war without the consent of parliament. This is precisely what Blair and his cronies did when they joined Bush in the invasion of Iraq. Looking through Waterstone’s shelves the other month, I saw a book by a British general arguing against the proposal, on the grounds that it would hinder Britain’s ability to wage war.

A fair reply to this argument would be ‘Good.’

The Iraq invasion was an illegal act of aggression, launched on a tissue of lies that Saddam Hussein was planning another attack, and had weapons of mass destruction. He wasn’t and didn’t. The result has been the destruction of one of the richest, most secular nations in the Middle East, the devastation of its priceless antiquities, and millions dead, wounded and displaced not only in Iraq itself but across the Middle East.

It plunged the country into a vicious, sectarian civil war, in which the American occupying forces gave material aid and sanction to Shia death squads, while the mercenaries employed by the West ran completely out of control. These private military contractors were responsible for prostitution to murder, sometimes just killing ordinary Iraqis and Arabs just for kicks.

There is a very strong case for hauling Blair, Bush and the other warmongers up before the Hague as war criminals. This has been tried by British, Canadian and Greek lawyers, but American pressure on the Hague War Crimes Tribunal put a stop to it. And a few weeks ago a British court also ruled that Blair could not be indicted as the war criminal he is.

Considering the horror Blair unleashed through his decision to go to war, against the wishes of over a million ordinary Brits, who marched against it – Christian, Muslim, atheist, whatever, then it’s only too right that the Prime Minister should have to call parliament before they declare war.

End Workfare Now! Part 2

June 20, 2017

Arguments for Workfare

The arguments trotted out to support the workfare policies are these.

1. Everyone has a duty to work. Those who take money from the state have a reciprocal obligation to work for the support they have received.

2. Following Moynihan in America, it’s argued that part of the problem of poverty in society is communities, where there are families, which have not worked for generations. In order to break the cycle of poverty, these people must be forced into work.

3. It’s also argued that many individuals have also been unemployed for so long that they, too, have lost the habit of working. These people must also be forced to work.

4. The unemployed are also socially marginalised and excluded. Workfare helps them, its supporters argue, become integrated into society and so become productive members of the community once again.

5. It is also claimed that workfare allows people to acquire new skills. In 2012 a report was published on the exploitation of the people forced to work for free as security guards for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A spokesman for the ConDem coalition responded to the claim by stating: ‘The work programme is about giving people who have often been out of the workplace for quite some time the chance to develop skills that they need to get a job that is sustainable.’ As Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols sang back in 1977 ‘God save the Queen and the Fascist regime.’

6. Workfare somehow reduces government spending on welfare programmes. Liam Byrne, New Labour’s advocate for workfare, who was quoted in the first part of this article, said ‘The best way to save money is to get people back into work.’

In fact there are serious arguments against just about all of these points, and some of them simply aren’t factually true. Let’s deal with each of these arguments in turn.

The Duty to Work

If people have a duty to perform free work for the goods and services that are provided freely by the state, then the middle classes and the elite should particularly be targeted for workfare, because they use the state infrastructure and its services more than the proles and those at the bottom of society. But the middle and upper classes most definitely are not required to perform these services. One of the worst policies of Mao’s China during the ‘Cultural Revolution’ of the 1960s and ’70s was the policy of taking skilled workers, intellectuals and artists away from their work to perform manual work elsewhere in that vast nation. It was bitterly resented, although at the time it was in line with the idea of creating a classless ‘workers’ state’. The respected TV critic and broadcaster, Clive James, in his column for the Observer, reviewed a programme that exposed this aspect of Chinese Communism. James was horrified at the effect this had had on breaking the health and skills of those sent to labour in the fields, such as a dancer for the state ballet. But if such forced labour is unacceptable for the middle and upper classes, it should also be so for those, whose only crime is to be without a job.

Furthermore there are also strong objections to performing workfare for a profit-making company. Those who do so, like those poor souls working free of charge for the big supermarkets like Sainsbury’s, are helping to make these companies even more profitable. It isn’t society that profits from their work, but extremely wealthy individuals like David Sainsbury and his shareholders, and the people running his competitors, for example. This parallels the exploitative nature of Stalin’s gulags and the Nazis’ use of skilled Jewish workers by the SS. The gulags were the immense archipelago of forced labour camps used to punish political prisoners and other victims of Stalin’s regime. Over 30 million Soviet citizens are estimated to have been imprisoned in them at the height of the terror. The vast majority were totally innocent. The system was used to industrialise the country, whose economy had formerly been dominated by agriculture. Under Stalin, the heads of state enterprises would supply lists of the types of workers they needed to the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, the state secret police. The NKVD would then arrest workers with those skills, and supply them to the businesses as requested. In Nazi Germany, the SS also formed an enterprise to exploited the skilled Jewish workers, such as jewelers, they had imprisoned. They were put to work producing luxury goods, which were then sold by the SS. They even produced a catalogue of the products made by these slave artisans.

This claim also implies that low income people have a duty to work in an inferior position for the benefit of their social or economic superiors in a master-servant relationship. This is a distortion of the concept of duty. The same idea also leads to the view that if you are unsuccessful in the labour market, you therefore have a duty to work for nothing, a view of society that is both regressive – harking back to some of the worst aspects of the Victorian era – and alienating. On the other hand, if you are performing work that is unprofitable, then there should be no duty to perform it. If it is genuine, valuable work, then the people performing it should be paid the current market rate, not simply provided with unemployment relief.

Standing also makes the point that the concept of duty has led to the belief that people should be forced to find work. But the use of coercion is divisive and actually undermines the commitment to work. He also argues that it actually amoral, because it takes away from workers their ability to choose for themselves whether to be moral. Plus the fact that workfare is not levied on the idle rich, or the friends and relatives of the politicians forcing it on others

Multigenerational Families of the Unemployed

The number of families that actually fit this description is so small as to be negligible, both in America and over here in Blighty. The academics T. Shildrick, R. MacDonald, C. Webster, and K. Garthwaite examined this issue in their Poverty and Insecurity: Life in Low Pay, No Pay Britain (Bristol: Policy Press 2012). Their research revealed that only 1 per cent fitted the description of a family in which two generations were unemployed. Official attempts to find these pockets of intergenerational unemployment have similarly turned up next to zilch. The whole idea is rubbish, but that hasn’t stopped papers like the Daily Fail claiming it’s true.

Getting People out of the Habit of Not Having a Job

Researchers have also looked at this one, too, and guess what? Yup, it’s similarly rubbish. There are very few people like this. But rather than acting as an incentive to find work, actually being forced to work unpaid in poor conditions may actually act as a deterrent. The Anarchist activist and writer, Alexander Berkman, made this point about work generally in his 1929, What Is Anarchist Communism? He made the point that much poor work was caused by forcing unwilling workers to perform jobs that they did not want and weren’t interested in. He pointed to the experience of prison labour, as an illustration. In prison, those workers, who were forced to perform such jobs did so badly. However, if they were given a job they enjoyed, then their work rapidly improved. He also made the point that Standing also makes about poorly paid but necessary work, that instead of forcing people to do it, wages should be increased to encourage workers to do them, and increase the social respect for those, who did those jobs. In a very stretched comparison, he described how both road sweepers and surgeons both helped keep people health. Surgeons, however, were given respect, while road sweepers are looked down upon. He felt this was simply a question of money, and that the social stigma attached to cleaning the streets would be removed, and the two professions given equal respect, if road sweepers were paid the same amount. This is too simplistic, as the surgeon is far more skilled than the road sweeper. But sweeping the streets and related dirty jobs would undoubtedly be more attractive if they were better paid.

Integrating the Jobless Back into Society

Far from being calculated to help the long-term unemployed back into society, the type of work that they are forced to do under workfare is humiliating. In many cases, this is quite deliberate as part of the government’s ideology of ‘less eligibility’ and dissuading people from going on benefits. And studies by the researchers and the DWP itself have also found that workfare makes absolutely no difference to whether a claimant gets a job afterwards.

Enabling the Unemployed to Acquire New Skills

This is also rubbish, as the type of menial work people are giving under workfare, in which they sweep the streets or stack shelves, are by their nature unskilled. And if a skilled worker is forced to perform them for months on end, this type of work is actually like to make them lose their skills.
Workfare Cuts Government Spending

This is also rubbish. In fact, workfare increases government expenditure on the unemployed, as the government has to pay subsidies to the firms employing them, and pay the costs of administration, which are actually quite heavy. And the work those on the programme actually perform doesn’t produce much in the way of taxable income, so money doesn’t come back to the government. Furthermore, most of the people on benefits are actually working, which makes Liam Byrne’s statement that the best way to save money is to get people back into work’ a barefaced lie.

In addition to demolishing the government’s arguments in favour of workfare, Standing also provides a series of further arguments against it. These are that the jobs created through workfare aren’t real jobs; workfare is unjust in its treatment of the unemployed; it stops the unemployed actually looking for jobs for themselves; it lowers their income over their lifetime; it also acts to keep wages down; it keeps the people, who should be working at those jobs out of work; it’s a dangerous extension of the power of the state; and finally, it’s a gigantic scam which only benefits the welfare-to-work firms.

Workfare and Real Jobs

According to the ideas of the market economy developed by the pioneer of free trade, the 18th century philosopher Adam Smith, workfare jobs don’t actually constitute real jobs. Smith believed that the market would actually produce higher wages to entice people into performing unpleasant jobs. On this reasoning, if workfare jobs were real jobs, then they would have a definite economic value. They would be created through the operation of the market, and the workers in them would also be paid proper wages for performing them.

There are also moral problems in the definition of what constitutes a ‘real job’ that someone on workfare should have to perform. If it is defined as one paying the minimum wage, then workfare is immoral as it puts downward pressure on the wages and conditions of the people already performing those jobs, forcing them into poverty. If those ‘real jobs’ are defined as those which are dirty, dangerous, undignified or stigmatizing, and so unpopular, they would have the opposite effect of what the advocates of workfare claim – that they are encouraging people to find work.

The solution for progressives is to make the labour market act like it is supposed to act, rather than it actually does in practice. Adam Smith was quite wrong about wages adjusting upwards for unpopular jobs in a market economy. The wages provided for work should match both supply and demand, and people should not be made into commodities as workers. They should have enough economic support to be able to refuse jobs they don’t want. Instead of assuming that people need to be forced to work, there should be the presumption instead that most people actually do. It is arbitrary and ultimately demeaning for all concerned to try to identify people who are somehow ‘undeserving’. Genuine supporters of equality should want the wages in unpleasant jobs to rise, until there is a genuine supply of willing labour.

Article on the Guardian’s Bias against Jeremy Corbyn

March 22, 2017

Michelle, one of the many great commenters on this blog, sent me the link to this article by Novara Media’s Alex Nunns, ‘How the Guardian Changed Tack on Corbyn, Despite Its Readers’. This describes the way the Guardian initially supported Corbyn, but only when it thought that he was an outside candidate, who was unlikely to win the Labour leadership election. When Corbyn did indeed win, the Guardian’s furious reaction was to publish a series of articles attacking the Labour leader for being too left-wing. The Groaniad’s companion paper, the Observer, also reacted with the same outrage. And despite the Groan’s claim to be an impartial observer in the Labour leadership contest, it ran articles strongly backing the contenders Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.

The piece also discusses some of the individual hacks at the Groan attacking and sniping at Corbyn. These are Polly Toynbee, Michael White, Andrew Rawnsley and Jonathan Jones. It points out that Rawnsley had a personal interest in making sure the Blairites stayed in power: he had written several books on them, and they had given him privileged access and information. By challenging them, Corbyn was threatening to cut of his access to people at the centre of power. One of the other columnists, Patrick Wintour, may have had an even more personal reason for attacking Corbyn. Many on the Left believe that ‘Wintour’ is the nom de plume of Peter Mandelson. As for Jones, his article was almost bug-eyed with hysteria. He described how he joined the Communist party when he was a student, but abandoned it when he saw the reality of life in the Soviet Union for himself, noting that the Soviet regime killed 6m under Stalin. Corbyn, he decided, represented this kind of totalitarian government. He then started trying to defend the free market by saying that ‘markets are human’. Well, so are many things. But they are also subject to manipulation, and do not necessarily bring wealth to the majority of the population. Thatcherite trickle-down economics don’t work in practice. As for Corbyn himself, this is the standard Red scare the Right has been running against Socialism and the Left since the days of the Zionviev Letter. They ran it again under Thatcher against Tony Benn, Ken Livingstone and about 30 other Left Labour MPs in the 1980s. I’ve seen absolutely no evidence that Corbyn is a Marxist, or that he wanted absolute nationalisation. But it just shows how far the Labour right has been infected with the Neoliberal virus.

Jones is also guilty of a bit of holocaust minimalisation in his article as well. The Soviet Union under Stalin didn’t kill 6m Soviet citizens. It murdered about 30 million, at least 8m in Ukraine alone during the manufactured famine in the collectivisation of agriculture.

The article notes that Guardian is convinced Labour needs to keep to the centre-ground, but doesn’t understand how this has changed and will change in the future. It also acknowledges that there are many left-wing columnists on the Groan. However, their presence ironically supports the dominant bias against Corbyn, as it allows the newspaper to present their opinions as views, which have been heard and then discarded. It makes the point that the newspaper has absolutely no understanding why people support Corbyn, including 78 per cent of its own readers, nor the way the media itself shapes public opinion. Nunns states that the best comment on this came from Frankie Boyle, who observed

“It’s worth remembering that in the press, public opinion is often used interchangeably with media opinion, as if the public was somehow much the same as a group of radically right wing billionaire sociopaths.”

http://novaramedia.com/2017/01/08/how-the-guardian-changed-tack-on-corbyn-despite-its-readers/

William Blum on the Abortive Prosecution of NATO Leaders for War Crimes in Yugoslavia

February 27, 2017

Many people would like to see Tony Blair indicted for war crimes for his part in the illegal invasion and carnage inflicted on Iraq and its people. This isn’t the first time there has been serious consideration of putting the former British premier in the dock for crimes against humanity. In one section of his book, Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, William Blum describes the attempt by Canadian human rights activists, along with their fellows from the UK, Greece and the American Association of Jurists in March 1999 to have 68 leaders , including Bill Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, the Canadian PM, Jean Chretien, and the NATO officials Javier Solana, Wesley Clark and Jamie Shea, brought before the International Criminal Court in the Hague for war crimes against the Serbs during the war in the former Yugoslavia. This collapsed, as the court’s prosecutor, Louise Arbour, was frankly biased towards NATO, and the efforts by her successor, Carla Del Ponte were successfully stymied by NATO leaders. Blum writes:

Yugoslavia – another war-crimes trial that will never be

Beginning about two weeks after the US-inspired and led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia began in March, 1999, international-law professionals from Canada, the United Kingdom, Greece, and the American Association of Jurists began to file complaints with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague, Netherlands, charging leaders of NATO countries and officials of NATO itself with crimes similar to those for which the Tribunal had issued indictments shortly before against Serbian leaders. Amongst the charges filed by the law professionals were: “grave violations of international humanitarian law”, including “wilful killing, wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body and health, employment of poisonous weapons and other weapons to cause unnecessary suffering, wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, unlawful attacks on civilian objects, devastation not necessitated by military objectives, attacks on undefended buildings and dwellings, destruction and wilful damage done to institutions dedicated to religion, charity and education, the arts and sciences.”

The Canadian suit named 68 leaders, including William Clinton, Madeleine Albright, William Cohen, Tony Blair, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, and NATO officials Javier Solana, Wesley Clark, and Jamie Shea. The complaint also alleged “open violation” of the United Nations Charter, the NATO treaty itself, the Geneva Conventions, and the Principles of International Law Recognized by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.

The complaint was submitted along with a considerable amount of evidence to support the charges. The evidence makes the key point that it was NATO’s bombing campaign which had given rise to the bulk of the deaths in Yugoslavia, provoked most of the Serbian atrocities, created an environmental disaster, and left a dangerous legacy of unexploded depleted uranium and cluster bombs.

In June, some of the complainants met in The Hague with the court’s chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour of Canada. Although she cordially received their brief in person, along with three thick volumes of evidence documenting the alleged war crimes, nothing of substance came of the meeting, despite repeated follow-up submissions and letters by the plaintiffs. In November, Arbour’s successor, Carla Del Ponte of Switzerland, also met with some of the complainants and received extensive evidence.

The complainants’ brief in November pointed out that the prosecution of those named by them was “not only a requirement of law, it is a requirement of justice to the victims and of deterrence to powerful countries such as those in NATO who, in their military might and in their control over the media, are lacking in any other natural restraint such as might deter less powerful countries.” Charging the war’s victors, not only its losers, it was argued, would be a watershed in international criminal law.

In one of the letters to Arbour, Michael Mandel, a professor of law in Toronto and the initiator of the Canadian suit, stated:

Unfortunately, as you know, many doubts have already been raised about the impartiality of your Tribunal. In the early days of the conflict, after a formal and, in our view, justified complaint against NATO leaders had been laid before it by members of the Faculty of Law of Belgrade University, you appeared at a press conference with one of the accused, British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, who made a great show of handing you a dossier of Serbian war crimes. In early May, you appeared at another press conference with US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, by that time herself the subject of two formal complaints of war crimes over the targeting of civilians in Yugoslavia. Albright publicly announced at that time that the US was the major provider of funds for the Tribunal and that it had pledged even more money to it. 14

Arbour herself made little attempt to hide the pro-NATO bias she wore beneath her robe. She trusted NATO to be its own police, judge, jury, and prison guard. In a year in which General Pinochet was still under arrest, which was giving an inspiring lift to the cause of international law and justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, under Arbour’s leadership, ruled that for the Great Powers it would be business as usual, particularly the Great Power that was most vulnerable to prosecution, and which, coincidentally, paid most of her salary. Here are her own words:

I am obviously not commenting on any allegations of violations of international humanitarian law supposedly perpetrated by nationals of NATO countries. I accept the assurances given by NATO leaders that they intend to conduct their operations in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in full compliance with international humanitarian law. I have reminded many of them, when the occasion presented itself, of their obligation to conduct fair and open-minded investigations of any possible deviance from that policy, and of the obligation of commanders to prevent and punish, if required. 15

NATO Press Briefing, May 16, 1999:

Question: Does NATO recognize Judge Arbour’s jurisdiction over their activities?

Jamie Shea: I think we have to distinguish between the theoretical and the practical. I believe that when Justice Arbour starts her investigation [of the Serbs], she will because we will allow her to. … NATO countries are those that have provided the finance to set up the Tribunal, we are amongst the majority financiers.

The Tribunal – created in 1993, with the US as the father, the Security Council as the mother, and Madeleine Albright as the midwife – also relies on the military assets of the NATO powers to track down and arrest the suspects it tries for war crimes.

There appeared to be no more happening with the complaint under Del Ponte than under Arbour, but in late December, in an interview with The Observer of London, Del Ponte was asked if she was prepared to press charges against NATO personnel. She replied: “If I am not willing to do that, I am not in the right place. I must give up my mission.”

The Tribunal then announced that it had completed a study of possible NATO crimes, which Del Ponte was examining, and that the study was an appropriate response to public concerns about NATO’s tactics. “It is very important for this tribunal to assert its authority over any and all authorities to the armed conflict within the former Yugoslavia.”

Was this a sign from heaven that the new millennium was going to be one of more equal justice? Could this really be?

No, it couldn’t. From official quarters, military and civilian, of the United States and Canada, came disbelief, shock, anger, denials … “appalling” … “unjustified”. Del Ponte got the message. Her office quickly issued a statement: “NATO is not under investigation by the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. There is no formal inquiry into the actions of NATO during the conflict in Kosovo.” 16 And there wouldn’t be, it was unnecessary to add.

But the claim against NATO – heretofore largely ignored by the American media – was now out in the open. It was suddenly receiving a fair amount of publicity, and supporters of the bombing were put on the defensive. The most common argument made in NATO’s defense, and against war-crime charges, was that the death and devastation inflicted upon the civilian sector was “accidental”. This claim, however, must be questioned in light of certain reports. For example, the commander of NATO’s air war, Lt. Gen. Michael Short, declared at one point during the bombing:

If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, “Hey, Slobo [Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic], what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?” 17

General Short, said the New York Times, “hopes that the distress of the Yugoslav public will undermine support for the authorities in Belgrade.” 18

At another point, NATO spokesman Jamie Shea declared: “If President Milosevic really wants all of his population to have water and electricity all he has to do is accept NATO’s five conditions and we will stop this campaign.” 19

After the April NATO bombing of a Belgrade office building – which housed political parties, TV and radio stations, 100 private companies, and more – the Washington Post reported:

Over the past few days, U.S. officials have been quoted as expressing the hope that members of Serbia’s economic elite will begin to turn against Milosevic once they understand how much they are likely to lose by continuing to resist NATO demands. 20

Before missiles were fired into this building, NATO planners spelled out the risks: “Casualty Estimate 50-100 Government/Party employees. Unintended Civ Casualty Est: 250 – Apts in expected blast radius.” 21 The planners were saying that about 250 civilians living in nearby apartment buildings might be killed in the bombing, in addition to the government and political party employees.

What do we have here? We have grown men telling each other: We’ll do A, and we think that B may well be the result. But even if B does in fact result, we’re saying beforehand – as we’ll insist afterward – that it was unintended.

This passage comes from a longer piece, ‘War Criminals – Ours and Theirs’, attacking American double standards in supporting politicians, governments and military commanders guilty of horrific crimes against humanity when it serves their interest. This can be read at:

https://williamblum.org/chapters/rogue-state/war-criminals-theirs-and-ours

I realise that this may be hugely controversial. Slobodan Milosevic and his government were responsible for terrible atrocities in the former Yugoslavia, including the organised genocide of Bosnian Muslims. Mike spent a week in Bosnia staying with a Muslim family, as part of an international project to document the terrible aftermath and consequences of the war. However, the Muslims and Croats were also guilty of committing atrocities themselves, though I was told by a former diplomat that in general, most of the massacres were committed by the Serbs.

Blum argues that the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia had little to do with the raging civil war and human rights abuses, except as a pretext. He argues in his books that Milosevic’s regime was really targeted because they resisted the mass privatisations that international capitalism was attempting to foist on them. I don’t know if this is quite the case. Private Eye reviewed Geoffrey Hurd’s book on diplomacy over a decade ago, and commented on how much Hurd left out or attempted to smooth over of his own grotty career. Like how he was the head of the commission by one of the British banks to privatise the Serbian telecommunications industry under Milosevic.

I’ve also read other books, which have made similar allegations. In one book I read on the 7/7 bombings, the author argued that the reports of some of the atrocities supposedly committed by the Serbs were fabricated in order to whip up public support for military intervention. The goal, however, wasn’t to safeguard the innocents being butchered, but to establish firm NATO military control of the oil pipelines running through the country. This control has not been relinquished since.

Again, I have no idea if this is true or not. Ordinarily, I’d suspect claims that reports of war crimes by despotic regimes have been falsified as another form of holocaust denial. You can find any amount of material arguing that the Serbs were innocent of these atrocities on the various ‘Counterjihad’ anti-Islam sites. The book’s author had a very Muslim name, and its central argument was that the 7/7 bombings were deliberately orchestrated by the secret state to create further public outrage against Muslims, and thus more support for the wars in the Middle East. This seems wrong. Incompetence is far more likely. But it’s well argued and footnoted, with the original documents its author obtained under FOIA reproduced. This is complete with blank pages or passages where they were redacted, just like the Watergate report in America.

Regardless of the ultimate responsibility for the atrocities during the war, it seems that there were very strong geo-political reasons for NATO’s entry into the conflict against the Serbs, which are not at all altruistic. And however controversial this episode and its treatment by Blum are, he has a point: if the NATO leaders were guilty of war crimes, then Clinton, Albright, Blair, Chretien et al should be in the dock. If international justice is to live up to its ideal, then it must also be equally binding on the victor. Unfortunately, you’re not going to see it under the present squalid international order.

Sam Seder Takes Apart Conservative Rabbi Who Confuses Zionism with Judaism

September 30, 2016

Yesterday I published a long piece commenting on a post by Mike attacking the latest anti-Semitism smear against the vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker. Mrs Walker was accused of being anti-Semitic again because she asked the organisers of a Holocaust Memorial training day why the commemoration of this most terrible crime couldn’t also include others, who have similarly suffered persecution and genocide. She also complained that the organisers did not give her a definition of anti-Semitism she could work with. Mike pointed out that we were not told what prompted her to make those comments, or what the definition of anti-Semitism to which she objected, was. Mike has now put up a post reporting the objections several other people, who attended the event, have to the allegations. These women and men, like Mrs Walker herself, are Jewish. They strongly object to this latest attack on Mrs Walker’s character by pointing out that the definition of anti-Semitism the event’s organisers used explicitly links anti-Semitism to anti-Zionism. This is a highly politicised definition of anti-Semitism, and is extremely controversial, not least because of Israel’s decade’s old policy of ethnically cleansing the indigenous Palestinians.

See: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/09/30/anti-semitism-accusation-against-momentum-vice-chair-was-outrage-say-witnesses/

I’ll blog more about this latest post from Mike, and the issues it raises and refutes later. I am delighted that Mrs Walker, who is the daughter of a Black civil rights activist and a Russian Jew, and who has dedicated her life to attacking racism and anti-Semitism, has been given the support she deserves.

Unfortunately, the Jewish Labour Group, who organised the event, aren’t the only people, who confuse Judaism with Zionism. I pointed out in my piece that there are right-wing individuals and groups, who insist on an exclusively Jewish emphasis on the memorialisation of the Holocaust, and bitterly resent those Jews, who universalise their suffering into a commemoration of all, who have suffered genocide. In fairness, the Holocaust Memorial Day also does. However, what Mrs Walker objected to was that it did not commemorate the victims of ethnic cleansing and genocide that occurred before 1945. I also discussed in my piece the way Netanyahu a few weeks ago grotesquely invoked the Holocaust to justify his government’s refusal to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank. Mike also in his article noted that point of David Schneider’s definition of anti-Semitism, which states that Jews should not be automatically confused with the state of Israel and its crimes, would make many Zionists anti-Semites. This is also true. Netanyahu made a speech equating the Jewish people with the state of Israel, in order to render criticism of the state of Israel unacceptable as a form of anti-Semitism.

A few weeks ago, an American Conservative rabbi, Rabbi Jon Hausman, also declared that Judaism was identical to the state of Israel. He went further, and stated bluntly that those Jews, who did not share his views on the issue, were self-hating. They had not been brought up properly in the teachings of their faith, and so had replaced it with the op-ed pages of the New York Times.

Rabbi Hausman was speaking at an ACT for America event. ACT for America is an organisation dedicated to combating radical Islam, although in practice this seems to be just Islam. The Southern Poverty Law Centre has identified it in turn as a hate group. In this video below, Sam Seder, the presenter of the left-wing news show, the Minority Report, takes apart Rabbi Hausman’s views. He makes the point that Conservatives like Hausman, who have tried to impose their narrow definition of Judaism, have lost the debate for thousands of years. Judaism does not have a central religious official, like the Pope, who defines the faith. He goes further, and says that if you study the Jewish texts, you find that it is actually a sin to establish a state of Israel before the coming of the Messiah. That’s why, if you go to Jerusalem, you find graffiti scrawled on walls, which declare, ‘Zionism and Judaism are diametrically opposed’.

Mr Seder is also unimpressed with the rabbi’s attitude towards parenting. R. Hausman sneered at the members of his own family, and those of other Jews, who don’t make the equation of Judaism and Zionism. But he states that his daughter doesn’t make this theological mistake, but he told her that if she did, he wouldn’t pay for her college education. Mr Seder scathingly remarks about that attitude not being in the Torah.

Here’s the video. I should warn you, there is at one point an anti-Semitic slur, when one of the crew off-camera starts to parody the rabbi and those like him. Mr Seder himself laughs at the impression. I don’t condone the use of such derogatory terms. I think the reason it’s use is permissible on that part of the Majority Report is because Mr Seder and some of his production crew may be Jewish. They thus have ownership of the term, in the same way that Blacks can use the ‘N’ word, while others cannot.

From what I gather from my own, very limited reading and from talking to friends of mine, who have a background in helping to teach Religious Studies at college level, Sam Seder is entirely accurate. There is no single figure in Judaism, who has the power to make binding definitions of the faith. Individual rabbis have written responsa, which summarise the tenets of Judaism in their opinion. These may be respected, according to the status of the rabbi, but they are not authoritative statements like the Christian creeds.

I also understand that he is entirely correct about the traditional Jewish that the state of Israel could and should only be founded with the arrival of the Messiah. Many traditional Jews were shocked and horrified at the foundation of Israel, which they regarded as a secular blasphemy. For 20 or 30 years afterwards the establishment of the state Israel, its existence was the subject of fierce controversy within parts of the Jewish community. Even today, there are some Jews, who still find it unacceptable on religious grounds.

He is also right about the graffiti in Jerusalem. I’ve never been to the Holy Land, but I did read an article in the Observer way back in 1984/5, which had a story about the current situation in Israel as it was then. This had several photos, one of which showed that message scrawled on a wall, exactly as Mr Seder describes.

As for Sam Seder’s comments about the Torah not endorsing R. Hausman’s method of teaching his daughter, what he considers to be the correct attitude to Jewish doctrine and the state of Israel, while there are passages in the Bible, which do teach a very strict attitude towards bringing up children, several of the great rabbis I believe also had an appreciation of children’s need for play. There is a story that one of the rabbis bought pots, for his children to smash, so they could amuse themselves while he taught them the Law.

Judaism and Zionism are not automatically the same, and people are not anti-Semites, nor Jews self-hating, if they reject Zionism or criticise the ethnic policies of the Israeli government. This, however, is Mrs Walker’s real crime in the eyes of her accusers. As Mike and I have both written, I think they owe us an explanation and to be taken to task for their views, not Jackie Walker and the other decent men and women they’ve slandered.